Powering the HMI Experience in the Plant

  • Client: GE Power
  • Technology: HMI

Powering the HMI Experience in the Plant

There are a lot of things you need to know to run a power plant. It’s all about communication and control. And as one of the biggest names in the business, our client was looking to make its monitoring and control technology even better, with a new human machine interface that’s more powerful, streamlined and easier to use. That’s when our user experience design team got involved.

We started by interviewing the engineers and operators who would be using the new HMI. What do your screens look like now? What’s important for you to see? When do you want to see it? How should it be presented? And we learned a lot.

The legacy screens were busy and complicated, too many colors with confusing diagrams and too much information presented at the wrong time. Things needed to be simplified. Adding to the challenge, the new design had to be flexible enough to support any type of plant configuration – steam, coal, gas, combined cycle, even nuclear. All while keeping the cohesive look and feel of our client’s brand.

The work proceeded on two fronts. We started an interaction design process that took into account the things that plant managers, operators and troubleshooters had to address. A strong focus was placed on improving operators’ awareness of plant conditions and allowing for faster response when actions are required.

We looked at how operators could navigate efficiently based on their mental models, the monitoring they performed, and the troubleshooting abilities they required. Then we developed system views to expedite them all.

To reduce screen clutter (and help operators consume and interact with information appropriate for their needs), we created an information-hierarchy of displays that increased the level of detail as users drilled down into the HMI. And by presenting data in a more appropriate context, we were able to transform it into more useful information.

We developed new visual-design guidelines to promote a common look and feel across the entire plant and an identity that is both visually appealing and unique. With minimalism as a focus, we created simple, intuitive graphics and icons to reduce visual noise and support operators’ situational awareness. Color was used sparingly and strategically to draw attention while reducing cognitive workload. Guidelines were also developed for alarm visualization, which is an integral part of the HMI user experience. The goal was to enhance operator sensitivity to abnormal conditions and improve identification and response times.

All concepts were presented and validated, using an iterative approach with the operators and experts. Low-fidelity wireframes were used to show interaction and layout, and then pixel-perfect visual designs and prototypes were tested to gauge user experience and impact.

This newly developed Power Plant HMI is a major step forward in increasing productivity, efficiency and safety for the entire power generation industry. And we’re proud to be part of the team.